Shadow and Bone is the first of seven full-length novels in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Released in 2012, it was an instant hit. As part of the Grishaverse, Shadow and Bone established a world that would be fleshed out by six more novels and a number of short stories and companion books. It has also now been adapted into a Netflix series, which launched in April 2021.
What’s Shadow and Bone about?
Shadow and Bone is told from the perspective of Alina Starkov, an orphan in war-torn Ravka. While Ravka is inspired by historical Russia, it is also very much a fantasy country of Leigh Bardugo’s creation. Her debut novel ranges across Ravka and centres on the human cost of the wars and disasters that have plagued it for centuries.
The Grisha are central to Bardugo’s fantasy world and lend their name to the overarching series title, The Grishaverse. In Shadow and Bone we are introduced to them as powerful magic users who make up the ranks of Ravka’s Second Army under the command of the enigmatic Darkling.
The Grisha wield innate magic power and are organised into three orders: Corporalki (who have powers of life and death), Etherealki (who can summon elemental forces) and Materialki (who can create magic items). Most Grisha fall neatly into one of those orders but there are some, like the Darkling, who stand apart by virtue of their unique talents.
We can’t say much more about the Grisha without giving away spoilers, but it’s safe to say that they will appeal to fans of fantasy, superheroes and other books that explore worlds populated by a small number of high powered individuals.
Aline Starkov is the book’s first person narrator, whose personality will certainly feel familiar to fans of Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) or Triss Prior (Divergent), though her historic fantasy setting is wildly different from those dystopian futures. Despite the similarities of the narration, Alina is her own character, whose relatable struggles with responsibilities and relationships carry us through Shadow and Bone’s story. Alina is a flawed but likeable character whose personal journey is brushed by tragedy and hardship. Her voice carries readers through the novel and never lets us forget the impact that these nation-shaking events have on the individual people of Ravka.
Another important feature in Ravka is the Shadow Fold, also known as the Unsea. Introduced in the first paragraph of the first chapter, the Shadow Fold is a vast ‘sea’ of impenetrable darkness that splits Ravka in two from north to south. Monstrous, flesh-eating volcra prowl its miasmic expanse, and it can only be crossed in heavily armed sand skiffs powered by Grisha. The existence of the Shadow Fold is one of Shadow and Bone’s central mysteries, so we can’t say much more now, but it’s a fascinating feature that really sets the book apart from other stories.
Should you read Shadow and Bone?
It’s easy to look at the young, first-person female narrator and bracket Shadow and Bone alongside Hollywood hits The Hunger Games and Divergent. There are certainly similarities in the premise of one person going up against huge odds for a cause bigger than herself.
However, the actual tone of Shadow and Bone is very different from those dystopian novels. It’s fantasy world feels cold, hard and grim in a very real way. Rather than a tough future, Shadow and Bone draws us into the hardships of Europe’s past – specifically, Russia from a couple of hundred years ago.
As a historically-inspired fantasy book coloured by tragedy and conflict, Shadow and Bone has as much in common with fantasy novels like Mimi Yu’s The Girl King and Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings as it does with young adult dystopian fiction.
The reality is that Shadow and Bone will have a wide appeal, offering something to like for fans of the hit young adult dystopian series and fans of fantasy more generally. It is helped along by Leigh Bardugo’s enjoyable writing, which makes it very easy to settle in and feel part of Alina Starkov’s world. If your interest is piqued by anything you’ve seen in this article so far, Shadow and Bone is worth reading.
What is the Grishaverse?
The Grishaverse is the collective name for the stories set in the world that Shadow and Bone introduces. It currently contains one trilogy (Shadow and Bone), two duologies (Six of Crows and Nikolai), two companion books and a number of short stories. The books of the Grishaverse take place in a number of countries in Ravka’s world and follow a cast of characters much larger than those seen from Alina Starkov’s perspective in Shadow and Bone.
Books of the Grishaverse
Shadow and Bone, released in 2012, was the first Grishaverse book and the start of its opening trilogy. It was followed by Siege and Storm (2013) and Ruin and Rising (2014). After the first trilogy’s conclusion, Leigh Bardugo wrote the Six of Crows duology, The Language of Thorns book of short stories, and the Nikolai duology, which concluded in 2021.
Here’s the full Grishaverse in order of its publication:
Shadow and Bone Trilogy
Shadow and Bone (2012)
Siege and Storm (2013)
Ruin and Rising (2014)
Six of Crows Duology
Six of Crows (2015)
Crooked Kingdom (2016)
The Language of Thorns (2017)
King of Scars (2019)
Rule of Wolves (2021)
The Lives of Saints (2020)
More by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo’s writing has not been limited to her Grishaverse series. She has published two other novels: a standalone novel in the DC Icons series, Wonder Woman: Warbringer, and the first novel in her Alex Stern dark fantasy series, Ninth House.
Other books to read if you like Shadow and Bone
If you’ve read or like the sound of Shadow and Bone, there are plenty of other books that will give you a taste of magic and adventure. Here are some of our favourites:
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Despite the similarities in the title, there is no story connection between Laini Taylor’s trilogy and Shadow and Bone. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the first installment in the story of a girl in modern day Czech Republic who has been raised by a family of monsters. It’s both a tale of magical self-discovery and multiverse-spanning fantasy storytelling.
The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
Set in an alternate version of 20th century Paris, The House of Shattered Wings tells the tale of conflict between houses of fallen angels who rule the magic-infused ruins of the city. Aliette de Bodard draws on elements of both Christian and Vietnamese religion to create a vivid and unique fantasy version of France.
The Girl King by Mimi Yu
Mimi Yu’s The Girl King takes place in a historical fantasy setting where magic is on the periphery. It is a collision of worlds in a number of different ways, but the intertwined tales of Princess Lu and the shapeshifting Nokhai steal the show. At the time of writing just the one book has been released in the series, but expect much more to come.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms shares thematic elements with Shadow and Bone, with the story revolving around a young woman plucked from her life and placed in the midst of the cutthroat intrigue of a huge capital city. N. K. Jemisin’s award-winning masterpiece follows a tense power struggle where gods and humans are manipulated as easily as pawns on a chess board.
About Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo is the bestselling author of the Grishaverse, which started with Shadow and Bone in 2012 and has grown into seven full length novels and a Netflix series. As well as her Grishaverse series, Bardugo has written for the DC Icons series and published the first novel in her new dark fantasy series, Ninth House. View all of Leigh Bardugo’s books available at Gardners.lk.